The more things change…

Thucydides, describing what happened when the Hellenes’ Great War veterans came home from the battlefields:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries.”

History of the Peloponnesian War, Book III, 3.82-[4]

Quoted by commentor at Juan Cole’s blog back in January, but I didn’t end up posting it then. Just observing various blogstoushes has prompted me to post it now.

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, history, Politics

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2 replies

  1. The rhetoric of empire has been around a very long time. If you read Tacitus’ On Germania you see the same pattern of talking about the brave and loyal German women who must be saved from their brutish men that we (USians) use as an excuse for the Afghan war.

  2. Totally. I’ve been dipping into my Thucydides a bit lately, ok for the last ten years, ever since the hunt for WMD strawfig couldn’t hide the might is right arguments that the Melian dialogue elucidates so well.
    That event, refered to above, the revolution in Corcyra, is bloody chilling, tho my translation, from the 1950s is a touch more wordy than the above. “prudent hesitation, specious cowardice” is rendered as “to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward”. i tell you what year twelve would have been simpler if the whole book had been that much shorter.
    When you get depressed reading Thucydides, you can have a rest and go and read some Aristophanes, written during the same war he tends to put a smile on my dial. I think you have discussed Lysistrata before.

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